This Week's Sermon
Reformation Sunday – November 3, 2019 – John 8:31-36
“The Reformation Means True Freedom”
There’s nothing more American than freedom. Blue jeans, baseball, apple pie, and freedom. Those are the four key ingredients to being an American, right? In all seriousness, though, as Americans we love freedom. It’s what our founding fathers fought for in the Revolutionary War, it’s what our soldiers today continue to fight for. We love it. And get to enjoy it in so many different ways. We have the freedom speak our minds. We have the freedom to ask questions and seek answers. We have the freedom to protect ourselves and our families. We have the freedom vote for whomever we choose. We have the freedom to work whatever job we want. We have the freedom to worship our God like we are today without fear that our government is going to come swooping in to stop us. As Americans we treasure our freedom. But you want to know the reality? The freedom we have as Americans is not the best kind of freedom. The best kind of freedom is the freedom that we celebrate in the Reformation. It’s a freedom that only come from Christ. It’s a freedom from sin, from death and from the devil. It’s a freedom that makes us sons and daughters of God. It’s true freedom.
To talk about freedom, Jesus stacks it up next to its polar opposite in our gospel lesson: slavery. For people who have grown up in the United States, we’re familiar with slavery really in name only. In our lifetime slavery has not existed in this country. Instead, we enjoy freedom. But it did exist here once. And still exists in other places in the world. Slaves, of course, aren’t free. They don’t get to make the same choices that free people do. They don’t get choose what line of work they go into. They don’t take weekends off. They don’t get to move to find better opportunities. They are stuck. Bound. So maybe, when we hear Jesus’ statement, we have the same thought that the Jewish believers did. “We don’t need to be set free. We already are free!” But Jesus isn’t talking about physical slavery. That’s not even remotely on his mind right now. He’s talking about a spiritual form of slavery. In this type of slavery, the oppressor isn’t an individual or a nation. This captor is sin.
Sometimes, this kind of slavery is pretty easy to see. You see it in the man who night after night turns to the bottle after a hard day of work, and his drunkenness, lashes out violently against his wife. The slavery to sin is right there in front of us. It’s there in the drug addict, who lies and steals so that he get a quick fix – boom. Slavery. We see that slavery clearly in the woman who deceives her family and friends so that she can carry-on an extra-marital affair with another man. Slavery, plain as day. We see it very clearly in others don’t we?
Other times it’s harder to spot – especially in myself. There’s one important thing to remember: slavery to sin isn’t only what we do, it’s who we are. We just admitted that, didn’t we? Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth. Pick a commandment, any commandment. When we hold God’s Law up to our hearts like a mirror, our own slavery becomes undeniable. The 4th – “Honor your father and mother.” – sure we respect our government leaders, those called by the church, our employers – to their faces; but how many of us would be ashamed if our private thoughts were made public? The 5th – You shall not murder - it’s pretty easy to not shoot someone. It’s not so easy to refrain from murdering with hatred in our hearts. The 6th, You shall not commit adultery – it’s fairly easy to stay out of our neighbor’s bedroom. What’s not so easy is keeping our eyes to ourselves or staying away from the websites you go to when nobody’s watching. The 7th, You shall not steal – Raise your hand if you’ve ever walked into the bank and robbed the place at gunpoint. Nobody? What if I asked if you’ve ever decided that it was more important for you to keep your whole paycheck than it was to give some back to the Lord in thanksgiving? Might see a few more hands in the air. See, Jesus doesn’t say “every time you sin you are a slave.” He says, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” It’s a fact. It’s reality. If you’re here on this earth, you better believe you’re a slave to sin.
Of course, nobody likes being a slave. We want to be free! Which means we have to escape. There are a couple of ways we try and do this. First, we try to work our way out. If I do enough, if I try hard enough, I can get out. Break the cycle of sin, and finally be free. Work, work, work, and then I’ll be good to go. That’s the route that Martin Luther went. That’s why he entered a monastery and became a monk – by devoting himself to serving God he felt that he could earn his way out of God’s judgment for sin. He slept on a stone floor in an unheated cell, became a priest, attended confession seven days a week and worshipped seven times a day. He did all this in an attempt to free his conscience from guilt and his soul from slavery to sin. Do you see what he had done? He took one form of slavery and traded it out for another.
Then we have option two, denial. That’s the route the Jewish Christians took. “We can’t be slaves! We’re Abraham’s descendants. We’re part of the family, God’s chosen ones. God’s going to give us a “go straight heaven card.” For being proud of their ancestry, they seemed to have forgotten about it. There is page after page after page in the Old Testament about how God’s people willingly turned their backs on God and in turn, their bodies would fill the desert. For us, though, it’s not about blood, but outward membership sometimes. “We’re Lutherans. We’re not like those other churches who change what God’s Word says. We’re in the fast lane.” Not so fast. Saying “I’m a Lutheran” and sitting in Lutheran pews isn’t what frees us slavery. Sometimes it even keeps us from recognizing the reality of the situation. We sin, and are therefore slaves to sin, and cannot free ourselves.
But that’s really the point. It’s why we celebrate the Reformation every year. We cannot in any way free ourselves slavery. But wonderful truth that kickstarted the Reformation tells us that we don’t have to. Our freedom from the slavery of sin does not depend on us or our actions. It depends fully on the actions of another. If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free…If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. In these verses we have the three-fold “theme” of the Reformation summed up for us. You’ve maybe heard them in Latin: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura. Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. Where do we find our freedom? We find it in these words.
Our freedom is by grace alone. God’s grace is his undeserved love poured out on us. When it comes to our freedom, we play no part in achieving freedom. We have to be set free. We’re the passive recipients of freedom. It’s a gift from God. That doesn’t mean it came without cost. God grace was earned not by us, but by Christ. The Son who set us free from slavery and earned for us the right to be called sons and daughters of God, paid for our freedom through his sacrifice. He made payment in his blood on the cross, and on Easter morning he announced the freedom from death, and sin, and hell for the world to see in the empty tomb. And then he gave that freedom to you and me at no charge to us!
That freedom comes to us through faith alone. Jesus tells us today, “If you hold to my teaching…” What else is faith other than holding to – trusting – the teachings of Jesus? The teachings of the Bible. By God’s grace alone, he sent the Holy Spirit to plant that faith in your heart and my heart. That faith is the channel by which God passes freedom onto us. And this faith isn’t in our own actions or efforts, or in our heritage, it’s faith in the Son who set us free.
And God plants that faith in our hearts, through Scripture alone. We’re holding to Christ’s teaching, right? That’s only found in one place – in God’s Word. Wrapped up in these words are the power of God and the working of the Holy Spirit. Without Scripture, we would still be in our slavery to sin because we wouldn’t know about our Savior. That’s why as Lutherans we keep going back to the Word. That’s why we trust it and let it alone guide what we preach, teach, and believe. Because it’s where true freedom is found.
That freedom means a status change. Being freed by the Son of God gives a new reality and a new identity. We are no longer slaves. We’ve been set free, and more than just set free, we’ve been adopted into God’s family and given all the rights that come along with being his child. That doesn’t mean we will never sin again. We know how strong our sinful nature can be, and that in the struggle between the free new man, and old sinful slave, sometimes the new man loses that fight. But as free children God, God has equipped us to do battle again our sinful nature, against the devil, and against the temptations they bring. But even in those times we lose the fight, as free children of God we know the war has been won. We aren’t slaves. We’ve been set free. So we can approach our heavenly Father and seek out his forgiveness and know with absolute certainty that because we’ve been set free, we have his forgiveness. And that means we’re free from guilt over those sins. God has washed them away in the love he poured out on us in Christ. They’re gone! The blessings of being a son or daughter of God still belong to us. We still have his love, his protection, his blessings, and most of all, the home he’s prepared for us in heaven.
These verses sum up what we celebrate the Reformation so beautifully. Martin Luther’s goal was not to break away from the Catholic Church or to start a new church. He simply wanted to go back to go back to what Christ taught – he wanted to hold to the teachings. He wanted to go back to freedom. Our heritage as Lutherans is one of freedom. Not freedom of speech or to vote. But a better freedom. True freedom. Freedom that has been given to us freely by our Savior. May me we never lose hold of that freedom. May we treasure it each and every day. And above all let us thank God for it. We are free. Praise the Lord. Amen.